So far this year's been a good one for me for crime fiction, three books by Fred Vargas, John Bude and William Shaw were excellent and now here's a fourth, Snowblind by Icelandic author, Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates). This is my third book for the European Reading Challenge, 2018 and covers the country of Iceland.
Ari Thór Arason Lives in Reykjavik, Iceland, with his girlfriend, Kristin. He's just finishing police college and looking for a position, she's in the 5th. year of a medical degree. Ari Thór has found it difficult to decide on a career, first of all studying philosophy, then theology, both of which he abandoned mid-course before trying the police. Kristin and he have not been living together very long when he gets a job offer. But it's not in Reykjavik, it's in a small town in the very north of Iceland, Siglufjordur. He accepts immediately before even discussing it with, Kristin. She is naturally not best pleased.
The new recruit finds Siglufjordur surprisingly isolated. The approach road is precipitous and prone to avalanches, it's not unusual for the town to be cut off for days in Winter. Thus the place is insular, claustrophobic even, everyone knows everyone and their business into the bargain. Doors are not locked at night because there is no crime. Ari Thór wonders what on earth he's got himself into.
An elderly writer who is very involved in the local amdram group falls to his death down the stairs of the theatre. An accident everyone assumes. But when a local woman is found bleeding from a stab wound in the snow in her garden, close to death, Ari Thór starts to wonder. A place with no crime and two incdents like this, one straight after the other?
The town is suddenly cut off by an avalanche on the road outside town and what with the near 24 hour darkness... the town's population starts to get twitchy. It's down to Ari Thór and his colleagues to solve this complicated mess, but he has problems of his own...
I can't say that I'm really a Scandi crime fan, not sure why, I've tried a couple but they haven't appealed for some reason. But, while reading Fred Vargas's A Climate of Fear, I suddenly fancied reading something set in Iceland. Coincidently, Snowblind appeared in front of me on Goodreads one night so I grabbed it from the library to give it a try.
For me, the best feature of this book is the setting. I suppose I thought that whole of Iceland was snowed in all winter but it seems not. The north definitely gets hard winters but the south, around the capital, Reykjavik, not so much... the harshness of the weather on the north coast is quite a shock to Ari Thór. Nice to learn these things. And so, of course, the landscape and the weather is a huge factor in the book and descriptions are so good that you very much feel as though you're there. And the town of Siglufjordur actually exists. Here's a pic from Wikipedia:
Looks like an amazing spot but you can see what it would be like in winter.
The story itself was very much a slow burner. It took a while to really get going, but then I suppose authors do need to set the scene with a new series, tell us about the main characters and so on. Once it got going however it was excellent. I liked Ari Thór, his background is quite complicated, he lost his parents as a child and this has had an effect... on just about everything in his life. To be honest all of the book's characters are conflicted with one thing or another, but that's just real life. This wasn't really a cut and dried murder mystery story and the ending reflects that. I liked it a lot and have reserved book 2, Blackout, from the library.